Caring for Yourself and Others During Crisis
All of the changes were stressful and emotional for each of us and they seemed to affect us all in different ways.
As the worldwide pandemic started and our world went into lockdown, our family found ourselves at home together working and going to school. It was a time of many mixed emotions. It was stressful and chaotic but also comforting to hope that we would be safe at home together. We were grateful to have the ability to stay home and still work but worried about those throughout the world who had lost their jobs and businesses. We were in awe over the heroic actions of health care workers and first responders but felt guilty that we weren’t doing more to help.
There were also many new things that we needed to deal with in our new daily lives — from finding workable office spaces for the adults to communicating with teachers and other professionals who had been helping our children. Our independent kids who were always amazing students at school suddenly couldn’t do schoolwork at home unless a parent was sitting right next to them the entire time. Our kids had speech therapy sessions, class meetings, orthodontist appointments, and piano lessons online while the parents were left to coordinate the scheduling and technologies of all of these new things in addition to working, helping kids with schoolwork, and doing all of the regular things required to run the household.
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All of the changes were stressful and emotional for each of us and they seemed to affect us all in different ways. This article was written to try to give some perspective and some ideas on how to deal with the crises that we each have in our lives — whether it’s the ongoing worldwide pandemic or a personal crisis in our individual lives or something in between.
Please note the tips in this article for managing your mental health are not a substitute for advice from a qualified mental health professional.
General tips for managing stress, anxiety, and depression
Throughout time, humans have encountered different problems, both manmade and natural. As a species, we have an inherent and innate response to want to correct the problem that we are encountering; both for our own mental health and for those we care about. The bigger the crisis, the greater our reaction is going to be. This is why it is a good idea to be in control of our emotions and realistic in what we are feeling.
Some of the biggest problems that we face when dealing with a crisis include our own stress, anxiety, and depression. These problems can be insurmountable for some even without a crisis to add to external factors. Knowing how you can identify and manage stress, anxiety, and depression will allow you to remain on an even keel and move on with life. Your ability to create and achieve goals will be easier to accomplish when you learn how to simply manage these responses. In this section, we will examine each response and learn general guidelines for how to cope with each. Please note that if you are feeling like you cannot handle the stress, anxiety, or depression in your life on your own, it may be time to speak to a mental health professional.
One of the biggest underlying negative responses that we all deal with daily is stress. Stress can be exciting, such as when we ride a roller coaster or watch a scary movie. In times of crisis, we are dealing with additional stress without any hope of a payoff. Instead, we feel all the different problems growing and uncertainty about what is to come. Without knowing how to move forward, we tend to find ourselves stressed out about things that would normally cause no issues. By identifying personal triggers, you can begin to figure out ways to manage your stress. In times of crisis, the cause of the stress can come through things like the media, friends and loved ones, and internal fears. The cycle of stress builds upon itself.
In times when there is a shared crisis where your community, city, state, nation, or world, is sharing the same experience, there will be a flood of information. You will be overloaded with information from all sides. This can cause stress not only from the information itself but as to whom you can trust. Many will find themselves going from one source to another trying to make sense of it all; from mainstream media to social media to websites and more. This would therefore be a trigger that is causing you stress. The solution simply becomes to reduce, or eliminate, your intake of information. Find a manageable amount of time you can dedicate each day to information intake and do not exceed that.
You may also have some self-induced triggers brought on by trying to cope with anxiety or depression. Take some time to identify the stress you are currently feeling and what has caused you to feel that way. By maintaining introspection and being honest with ourselves, we can be more self-aware and able to more easily identify our personal triggers. This is useful information to have because we can then safeguard ourselves from these triggers in the future and avoid stress before it even becomes a problem. Remember that stress is different for everyone. Our stress reaction can be positive or negative depending on our own relationship we have with it. Taking time to become knowledgeable about your body and your feelings is a great step in learning to take better control over your future. This is the best stress reliever of all because you will have the confidence that you’re going to come through any situation with relative ease. This happens over time, so don’t get down if you do not have this feeling right away.
Anxiety is often misunderstood and identified as stress. This is a feeling of anxiousness about our situation and an overwhelming feeling of dread. Often, anxiety can be hard to identify when we are experiencing it because the factors that lead up to it can be subtle or understandable. Take for instance a time of crisis. We are understandably worried about what is going on around us and feel unable to do anything to alter the state of reality that we are forced to exist in. While this may be true, we can always maintain control over our own emotions and how we react to our environment. In the case of anxiety, some of the best ways to manage it are physical in nature.
We have control over our personal environment, so managing our stress or anxiety in a time of crisis can be as simple as just managing what we have control over. If the crisis is a global pandemic, you may want to take extraordinary action to maintain a level of normalcy in your world. Stock up on the different things that bring you joy or make you feel comfortable. While things like having enough food and water are definitely important, recognize that we need to nourish our soul as much as we need to nourish our body. Think about those things that bring you joy and take actions that allow you to feel whole. If you are into riding your bike, but you do not feel comfortable riding outside during the crisis, get a stationary bike and ride it while watching videos of the types of environments you would wish to bike through.
Another action you can take to manage anxiety is to simply create a schedule for yourself. Manage your sleep patterns so that you’re getting the restorative sleep needed to keep yourself mentally acute. Manage your time dedicated to self-enrichment, work, and frivolous behavior. Self-enrichment may include reading books, learning a new skill, or taking on a new hobby. Always make time to maintain contact with the people in your life that bring you joy. By having a schedule, you’re able to take control over your personal environment and you can create your own normalcy even in a less than normal environment. Make sure that you are not a slave to your schedule. There will be times when you need to dedicate more time to one activity over another. The main thing to remember is to keep an awareness of your triggers and not to allow yourself to spend too much time concentrating on any activity that will cause you to feel anxiety.
Among the most difficult of the problems that we face in times of crisis is depression. This is a feeling caused by stress and anxiety. It can become all-consuming and cause us to alter the way we interact with our environment. It is the feeling in which we cannot do what we want to do because there is no point to it. We feel that nothing we do will ever cause us to be happy again. It is identified in its most extreme cases as people who simply will not get out of bed in the morning because there is just no point. It can even be as subtle as putting off certain activities because we fear what will happen when we engage in them. This is what can make depression difficult for us to recognize. Put in the simplest terms, it interrupts the healthy reaction we should be having to a crisis. We are put into a state of fight-or-flight when it comes to a crisis. A healthy reaction would be to fight or take action. A less healthy reaction would be flight, or to take no action.
While the depression you may be feeling during a crisis may not be to stay in bed all day, it causes an interruption all the same. Depression tends to be cyclical. It feeds on itself through the negative emotions we feel as a result of the interruption in the activity. Think about if you are putting off doing an assignment for work your business is depending on. The crisis you’re dealing with may have caused you initially to feel that the assignment itself is pointless because it does not fix the crisis, but then this builds along with the feeling that you’re letting down your work, and that you could lose your job for not finishing the assignment. The longer you put off the assignment, the more depressed you will feel as a result of compounding feelings of regret, stress, and anxiety. Like anything else, the first thing necessary to manage depression is to identify that the depression exists. The earlier in the cycle we identify our depression, the easier it is for us to manage it.
Take some time each day to do a self-check. Identify how you are feeling. Feeling sad about the crisis is not necessarily a sign of depression. Identify whether you have been interrupting yourself in any actions you should be engaging in. Are you putting off anything for no reason you can identify? Whether it is an assignment for work, a difficult conversation with a friend or loved one, or simply making dinner, if you are putting it off and there is no reason to do so; this could be a sign of depression. You may want to take note of the action you’re interrupting, so you can take action to fix it.
Once you have identified your interruptions, you can take action to manage the depression. First and foremost, forgive yourself. You’re human! You have thoughts and feelings and emotions. You are not expected to be perfect, especially in a time of crisis. This is compounded when the crisis is one that you have no control over. Realize that you are only in control over yourself. By doing this, you can begin to work towards lifting yourself out of the mindset causing you to interrupt your life. The natural tendency when you’re elevating yourself from a state of depression is to slide backward by getting upset with being in a state of depression in the first place. This transfers the negativity from the lack of action to the cause of the lack of action, which becomes its own cycle. Be aware of this to ensure you will not backslide.
One great way for you to manage your depression, other than a self-check and forgiveness, is to exercise. Remember that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest. If you’ve identified that you’re stuck, it is time to get moving. The exercise will do two things for you; it creates a mental connection between movement and a good feeling, and it increases endorphins which create a joyous feeling. Exercise can be a small part of your daily schedule that you’re creating. As with anything, don’t concentrate all your time on exercise, but make it a part of a bigger plan that keeps your mental state on an even keel. Even something as small as a walk can restore your mind to a place in which you’re ready to take action in other areas.
By implementing these tips for managing your stress, anxiety, and depression, you’re going to find yourself feeling calmer and collected when confronted with a crisis. Remember that this is a daily exercise to engage in. By making these tips part of your daily routine, you will find yourself identifying problems before they have a chance to get to a toxic state that will be even more difficult for you to come back from. If something does happen to escape your awareness, don’t allow yourself to fall into a cycle that will give the issue more power than it deserves. Simply take a breath and then take action. You’re in control and you have the ability to keep moving forward. The crisis will pass and you will be stronger for having gone through it in the most aware method possible.
Tips for taking care of oneself
In a time of crisis, there is a tendency to engage in less than healthy behaviors. To feel happy and secure, we may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as binge eating, drug and alcohol abuse, or self-isolation. All of these things can lead to problems with our mental and physical health and can create an environment that is negative towards others.
For now, let’s concentrate on ourselves. Just remember, you are not going to be any good to the people you love and care for if you are not first good to yourself. Love starts with oneself. Once you learn to love yourself and care for yourself, you can begin to extend that care to others. This is an essential step people often tend to skip. The mindset is that they will feel better in the long run if they first help others. The issue when you do this is that you may still feel awful, and also, you may now resent others for having been more important than your own well being. While this feeling is not true, it does not prevent you from feeling it and from it having a potentially corrosive effect on your mental state. Thus, we start with ourselves by taking care of what we do and how we do it.
OVERINDULGENCES: BINGE EATING AND ABUSING DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
During a crisis, the tendency to overindulge is more prevalent. When a crisis hits, many will turn to forms of escapism, such as binge eating and drug and alcohol abuse. Underlying tendencies towards abuse tend to go into overdrive when there is a crisis. Seemingly smaller abuse problems can grow to become major ones while we are paying attention to the crisis. We may self-medicate through the use of what is legally (or in some cases illegally) available to us. Among the biggest problems with abusing drugs, alcohol, and food during a time of crisis is how we are made to feel better by engaging in excessive usage. Overindulgence of food and the abuse of drugs and alcohol alters the mental state we don’t want to be in causing us to feel better. This “better” feeling is only temporary, which leads to more excessive substance abuse and binge eating. There is nothing wrong with indulging in the things we enjoy in moderation, but turning to those indulgences for comfort in times when we are feeling stressed out, anxious, or depressed is less than healthy.
One of the best ways to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol and food is to make sure we are not drinking or eating as an escape. Be aware of your limits; especially in times of crisis. If you are drinking along with friends, whether in person or virtually, this is more healthy. You are having a shared experience and you are building comradery. It is a social behavior that maintains discipline whereas when you drink alone, there are no limits because you do not have to worry about what anyone else will see. If you are alone as a result of a crisis, it does not mean you cannot drink, or engage in other legal activities. As with eating for joy, this is something that should be limited to moderation. Know your limits and stick to those. By stopping yourself from engaging in excess, you are going to have a clearer mind and an easier time with all the rest of what you have to face in a time of crisis.
If you should find that you overdo it on occasion, do not beat yourself up for it. Forgive yourself, but take note of what was going on when you overindulged. Were you experiencing additional factors that may have caused you to be excessive? If you were exceeding your own known boundaries, it is most likely a result of attempting to escape the crisis through different substances. This is very important to take note of so you can be more aware of it in the future. While no expectation of having said knowledge will prevent you from excess in the future, it can prevent you from falling into an unhealthy cycle.
Among the reactions, we have to a crisis, and one of the most corrosive tendencies is to go into isolation. By cutting yourself off from others, you are stuck inside your own brain and you can be your own worst enemy. By our very nature, humans are social beings. It is no wonder technology has brought us so many forms of social media. It presents a way for us to be interconnected even at times when we cannot actually be together. A simple thing like reading the news is one way in which we, as humans, try to maintain contact with the world around us. When we turn our backs on others, we are turning our backs on one of the things which make us human. This is why it is important to first recognize when we are isolating, and then take action to remove ourselves from that pattern of isolation.
Identifying when we are isolating is more than just knowing we have been keeping away from human contact. As with any problem, identifying one that exists is the first step in correcting the behavior. It is possible to be physically removed from others without being isolated. True isolation comes when we completely cut ourselves off from the world around us. Having no contact through social media, not reading the news, not leaving your bedroom is the compound effect of isolation. Take stock of what you have been doing recently:
- Have you had any contact with family, friends, or other loved ones?
- Have you seen another person?
- Have you even read about what is going on?
If you can say no to all these questions, you are isolating yourself. This may be a condition which you fell into gradually, so don’t feel bad if you did not recognize it. During a crisis, we all have methods for coping that feel good for a time, but like anything, too much can be negative. Take the time each day to get in touch with you. Realize what you are doing and the effect it is having on yourself and the relationships around you.
Taking action is a very simple way to turn around any of the three factors listed above. Reach out to a friend who has traditionally had a positive impact on your life and have a conversation. The subject of the conversation matters less than the act of having the conversation. This enrichment of the soul causes you to have a healthy connection that extends to other ways in which we help ourselves. As you will find once you break your isolation, the feeling of joy that you encounter will become its own reward. You will seek it more and more and you will find it is easier to maintain the connections that are so vital to your mental health.
For some, the isolation during a time of crisis is unavoidable. You may need to isolate to curb the spread of a virus, for instance. While this requires physical isolation, it does not require mental isolation. There is a very distinct difference. Isolation can bring about depression that eats away at the soul that may be difficult to return from. If you are being forced to be in isolation because of a pandemic, make sure you are still keeping in contact with your friends and loved ones. Take advantage of the ability to utilize video conversations when speaking to people. Whenever possible, share experiences with those you are close to. Groups can still get together during quarantine simply by utilizing a group video program. While this is not ideal, it is a lot better than the alternative negative health effects caused by isolation.
EXERCISING FOR YOUR HEALTH
Your mental health is directly connected to your physical health. However, this does not necessarily coincide with your weight or the amount of fat you have. It is more about the actual motion you are engaged in. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain which elevate mood and maintain higher levels of energy. This positivity is so important during a crisis. Inactivity is common in times of crisis, as exercise becomes less of a priority, so moving the body helps to start working against the negative effects a crisis can have. As with anything, it is important to only make changes you can live with. Start small with something you can commit to and that you enjoy. As it becomes part of your daily routine, you can incorporate more. The last thing you want to do is go from zero exercises to a full exercise regimen. This could be too much of a shock to the system and a recipe for failure, which could cause you to have even more difficulty continuing to exercise in the future.
To start, you may want to engage in something that is low impact. Something as easy as walking doesn’t put much strain on the body, and it is something you can easily commit to. Take a walk around the neighborhood for a predetermined amount of time during the day. If you’re a morning person, go for a walk as soon as you wake up. If you’re more of a night person, go for a walk after you have dinner. Make a plan for when you will go for a walk, where you will walk, and for how long. Remember it is less about the amount of time you walk and more about the decision to act. You can limit your walk to a simple ten to fifteen minutes. You will not even be worn out after you go for the walk, but it is a step in the right direction.
Once the walking has become a part of your routine, you can take additional action. Doing some exercises which don’t require weights makes it easier and more economical to start. You can do sit-ups, pushups, calisthenics, yoga, and so much more. There are many exercise apps and shows you can stream that include a wide range of exercises that you can do from home. Remember to never exceed what your body can handle and what you actually have time for. If the exercise begins to be disrupted by other things you would like to do or things you need to do, you can make an excuse as to why you should stop. In most cases, limiting yourself to anywhere from thirty minutes to one hour of exercise a day is manageable. You can even schedule days in which you will not exercise to give the body a rest or as a treat for achieving a goal.
If you’re going to utilize weight training in your exercise plan or use other home gym equipment, make sure you have a routine to vary your exercise. It is best to switch between working out the upper and lower body. This allows part of your body to recuperate while you are working out the other part of your body. A classic model for weight training is to work out the upper body three days a week and lower body two days a week. This gives you a full five days of weight training a week which covers your whole body. Keeping a log of your weight training can help you keep track of your goals. This allows you to track the weights you’re using for every exercise and how many reps you are doing. Start with low weights to prevent tearing and injury and work your way up gradually.
Along with managing things like overindulgence, isolation, and exercise, you should simply be doing things that bring you joy and make you whole. You know better than anyone else what makes you feel complete. Take a little bit of time every day to give yourself what you need. Take a shower every day. Get up and exercise. Have something delicious to eat. Talk to the people you care about. Maintaining important things like shelter, food, and water will always be the main focal point, but they are not everything that makes us human. It is quite often all the little things in life which bring us joy that make it worth getting up in the morning and going through the day. This is even more important when you’re dealing with a crisis and are more apt to feel depressed or disconnected. This is why it is so important to fight against the tide and keep yourself in a proper headspace to confront the crisis with the right mentality. By having the right mindset, you’re apt to make decisions that are beneficial and helpful to your overall well-being.
Tips for caring for others
The link between caring for yourself and caring for others may or may not seem inherently connected, but they are. While they are both important, you can supersede one for the other. Once you have implemented caring for yourself, you can begin to look at taking care of others. Those in a position of caring for others as a profession tend to be at the most risk for not taking care of themselves in a time of crisis. For most other people, the tendency is to concentrate more on oneself, than on others. Take note, that they are both equally important, and you cannot fully engage in one without engaging in the other. To take care of oneself is to have the ability to care for others. To care for others gives us a purpose to care for ourselves. Just like negative acts can be cyclical, so can the act of caring for others. The more you care for others, the more you want to enjoy any good feelings you have when you see the benefits of your actions. This is a good attitude to have, but never lose sight of the necessity to care for yourself simultaneously. Among how you can care for others is outreach, thinking globally, and maintaining normalcy. Your impact will be felt and appreciated by those in your life who need it the most.
When you think about caring for others, you tend to think about your part in their lives. You see how you can help others simply by reaching out. This is what outreach is all about. Outreach can take several forms. The most classic form of outreach is simply through acts of kindness towards your fellow man. Everything from volunteering your time, money, and efforts for causes that help those in greater need than your own. While the easiest thing to do is to give money to causes, the bigger impact tends to be when you’re able to donate your time and talents. This does not always have to be in person, which may not be possible in certain pandemic situations. It can also be through virtual methods, like teaching online courses, or being available for others to call on when they need a conversation. When dealing with a pandemic crisis, you may find yourself donating your services by making masks, delivering food to those who can’t leave their homes, or checking in with neighbors. The key is to find where your talents can be best put to use and then get out and make a difference.
Of course, most of us will consider our friends and family when it comes to helping others. Start within your home. Think about the mental health of the people living under your roof. Think about the impact the crisis is having on their lives. Realize what you personally are going through in the crisis and what you have to go through to help yourself. This same logic can be applied to the people within your home. Check-in with them daily and keep track of their mental health. Make sure you are getting outside for some fresh air and regular exercise. Take time to engage in social activities together, like playing board games, or having discussions and debates about interesting subjects. By simply getting involved in their lives and making sure that they know that not only are they not alone, but they also have a resource for maintaining that happy feeling, they will process the crisis better.
For those who are not within your home, you should make every effort to maintain contact with friends and family. Just like you do not want to feel the strain of isolation, others want to feel like they are not alone. This can be something as simple as making a phone or video call. It can also be walking next door to check on someone you have not seen in a while. You can make something, like baked goods, and bring them to those you love and care for. The method in which you reach out to the other people in your life matters less than the simple act in and of itself. Remember the intense strain that isolation can place on someone. When the isolation is created in a time of crisis and is out of our hands, it can be exponentially worse. The breakthrough that barrier by reaching out in your own way to those who need it the most.
It can be difficult to think outside of oneself at times. It can be even harder to think about our individual impact on a global scale. Times of crisis tend to cause people to isolate themselves, which makes thinking globally even more difficult. In a pandemic crisis, the necessity to think globally is even more important. The first step is to realize that no action is insignificant. We can create an effect that will ripple through our own circle and expand outwards into the rest of the world. Even inaction can have a global effect, because of the impact your absence will have on those around you. By realizing this causality, we can see that our own actions should be taken into consideration in a time of crisis even more so than usual. The positive, or negative, effects are in our own hands. Simply by considering our place in the world, we start to see how our actions affect us.
Take into consideration our purchasing habits. In a time of crisis, many tend to hoard. Things like toilet paper, food, and medical supplies disappear quickly. By concentrating on what you fear, you make purchases to alleviate your fears. During a global pandemic in which we are asked to shelter in place, there is a fear that there will not be a time in which you will be able to leave your shelter, and so you must be prepared for that occasion. The best policy is to be realistic in your needs for weathering the storm of the crisis. If you are one person, you likely will not need a hundred rolls of toilet paper. Take some time to think about what you really need and limit your purchases to just that. The reality is that while you have a need, so do the rest of the people around you who are going through the same crisis.
Another way in which you can think globally is to take action that can help others even when there is no crisis. The action of planting a tree helps you mentally by keeping you occupied with a physical task, but it also helps the planet by providing more oxygen for us to breathe. Donating food to a food bank allows you to help others who may not have enough to eat in times of crisis. There are several different ways in which you can take a small action that has a direct impact on others in your community as well as in the world. Take some time to identify the different actions you can take and the impact they will have. Concentrate on the ones which have the biggest impact, but also the ones to bring you the most joy. If at all possible, you may want to get others involved in your actions. In the case of planting a tree, if you plant one tree, it is beneficial. If you get ten people to take the same action, you have just increased this benefit tenfold. Get others involved as a group together, or separately, to take action that impacts people globally and you’re going to feel an enormous sense of accomplishment.
You may find the hardest thing to do in a time of crisis is to maintain normalcy. This is important on so many levels. The stranger things appear in the world around us due to a crisis, the scarier the crisis becomes; especially to the children in our lives. By investing time and effort into maintaining normalcy, we can reduce the mental strain a crisis may put on us. While there is nothing normal about a pandemic or other crisis, it doesn’t mean it has to take control of every aspect of our lives. By taking your role seriously in creating as normal of an environment as possible, you will have a direct impact on the mental stress others you care for may be under. Try not to be bogged down with the idea of keeping everything exactly as it was before the crisis. This simply is not possible. Even after the crisis has passed, changes may have to be made. You have control over those changes, so chart a course that establishes a new normal which is comfortable and livable.
Consider your schedule when there is no crisis. Now, look at what may have changed as a result of the current crisis. If you are having to shelter in place as a result of a global pandemic, you may not be traveling to and from work. You may not be attending certain services and appointments that you would normally attend. These interruptions can have a major impact on you mentally. They can also have a major impact on those around you. Make sure to create a schedule that adheres as closely as possible to what you are used to. Instead of spending the time, you would be commuting to work, replace it with reaching out to the others in your life or taking a walk. Make a call during that time, or spend some quality time with a family member doing something you do not normally get to do. However, when it comes time for you to “be at the office”, make sure this is adhered to. Not only will you be able to get more accomplished by maintaining order throughout your day, but you will appreciate your free time more when you are ready.
Crises also tend to create interruptions in our plans for the future. We are concentrated so much on the crisis at hand that any future becomes hard to think about. The uncertainty can create a plague of thoughts you will find hard to break away from. It has been said that people live longer when they have something to live for. This is also true when it comes to a crisis. When you have a goal beyond the crisis, it allows you to think clearly about the future and how to plan for it when it inevitably arrives. The crisis will end, and life will go on. By being prepared, you will be ahead of the curve when that readjustment period occurs. Get others involved in this planning so they too can feel the benefits of having a future to think about. This is easier when you are discussing starting a business or travel plans. Just keep an open mind when it comes to the impact the crisis may have on your plans. Be ready to make adjustments as needed.
While you are reaching out, thinking globally, and maintaining normalcy, always make sure to be aware of the relationship between your actions towards others and how it affects oneself. Realize you are helping yourself when you help others, and remember, you cannot have an impact without first helping yourself. Planning is a major part of everything we must do to care for others in a crisis. This is not only to keep us on track with everything we want to accomplish but to maintain focus where we need it. If you sit down and proactively come up with a plan, you’re going to have an easier time seeing every aspect of the plan and will notice if anything is missing. You will also be better prepared to manage your time when other demands begin to bombard you. Go over your plan. Make sure it has all the elements you need it to have. Are you caring for yourself while caring for others? Are you focusing on the most important things first? Always be forgiving of yourself when it comes to mistakes you make when planning. Just by taking the action to make a plan, you are doing more than most people in a time of crisis. You are keeping a level head, which is so hard to do when everything seems to be in upheaval.
Healthy eating habits in times of crisis
Food is essential to mental health, and in a crisis, we need to continue to exercise healthy eating habits. Concentrating on the food we eat allows us to manage our mental health. Recognizing our connection with food allows us to realize food can have a negative and positive effect on us mentally. By engaging in unhealthy eating habits, we could end up leaning towards depression. We will explore unhealthy and healthy eating habits and how cooking itself can be a sort of therapy. Having the best possible relationship with food allows us to approach other things in life with a better attitude. This means, not only the quality of the food we eat but how we prepare and eat it. As you will see, there is an easy way to make the necessary changes.
UNHEALTHY EATING HABITS
We all have comfort foods we turn to when we are feeling less than awesome. Food has a restorative property that returns us to happier times and places. Things like the soup recipe our grandmother made for us when we felt down, or a pizza is eaten among friends from our youth when we felt like the world belonged to us. We are transported in our minds to these times and we feel that same burgeoning explosion of happiness and comfort eating that food creates. This can be a highly addictive experience during a time of crisis, because who doesn’t want to feel happy? We all want to eliminate the crisis and the negative effects it has on ourselves. While this is a great temporary escape, it is important to put a limit on the escape. Moderation is always the best way to maintain a healthy life. This is especially true when it comes to food. Crossing the line where a healthy escape becomes a corrosive activity robs us of the happy feelings food can bring.
Even foods that don’t have a connection with a happier time in life can be an escape. Just the simple act of eating chocolate, for instance, brings joy based on the food itself. While there are connections with receptors in our brain from the chemical composition of chocolate, it is also the feeling we get from the taste receptors. We feel good for a moment eating “sometimes foods”, because they are, by their very nature, a treat. When we are facing a crisis, we feel we deserve a treat. We feel we deserve something that will bring us joy, but by overdoing it, we are not going to get any joy from the food any longer. Chocolate could become something that we regard with negativity because it has caused us to gain weight, making us sick, or gave us heartburn. Thus, we have taken away that happy feeling we get when we bite into a chocolate bar.
Maybe chocolate isn’t your thing. Maybe you derive joy simply from having a large meal. Think of the happy feeling you have after eating a holiday meal. The mix of different flavors is a joy in and of itself, but it is also the feeling of being full. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying this type of feeling on occasion (like during holidays), if we are to engage in this type of eating throughout the period of the crisis, we might come out the other side with feelings of regret. Serious maintenance is necessary when it comes to the food we eat during a crisis. Treat yourself! Feel good about what you are eating, because you are controlling how you eat it. This way, all those delicious foods bringing us joy will continue to do so.
Keep in mind that even when there is not a crisis, what you eat, and how you eat it, has a psychological impact. Being mindful of your diet is highly important to maintain order in your brain. While you require certain nutritional benefits from your diet, you can improve your mood simply by varying what you eat. Eating the same thing every day is monotonous and tends to create a drain on your mental health. On the other hand, simply eating without a plan can lead to several unhealthy behaviors. While it is not necessary to have a menu planned out for the week, it is best to have a plan that you can stick to.
HEALTHY EATING HABITS
Turning the corner with the food we eat allows us to start to work towards healthy eating habits. Start with looking at the quality of the food itself. The majority of the food you eat should be of the highest quality you can afford. This does not necessarily mean purchasing luxury items. Not all expensive items are good for your health. It means taking into account the methods by which the food was produced. In terms of production, this means considering whether any means of unnatural processes went into the growing of the plant. Genetically modified foods oftentimes will sacrifice nutritional content to create a plant that will produce viable results in the fastest way possible. Bigger and prettier tomatoes are not always as flavorful as less attractive naturally produced tomatoes. This is true of both produce and meat production. Several chemicals can be used to produce a viable product much faster, but to the detriment of the nutritional aspect, we rely on food to provide. Organic foods tend to be better in nutritional quality, but doing a little research into what you are purchasing will give you a better understanding of what you are eating, so you can make better decisions.
Along with starting with the best ingredients, you’re going to want to pay attention to how you are eating. Partaking of a large portion of spinach is great, but the benefits you receive from the healthy food may be overshadowed by the cream and cheese you eat it with when prepared as spinach dip. Food prepared simply allows more of the nutritional properties of the food to come through in the finished product. Take that same spinach and cook it with some onion, garlic, salt, and pepper to create a side dish with more nutritional content. Healthy eating always gets a bad rap as being devoid of flavor. This is not true if you take your time to learn a few recipes. The flavors you will encounter in healthy eating are not less flavorful, but a different flavor profile to be sure. Instead of rich and creamy, you are more likely to encounter bright and fresh flavors. Dense flavors give way to vibrant flavors when you trend toward healthy options.
Additionally, the eating itself is something you should consider. As mentioned above, binge eating is not healthy. While it is not necessary to go so far as to count every calorie consumed, be mindful of the volume of meals and the health properties provided. In most cases, the activity level in a time of crisis is going to decrease. If this happens, it is a good idea to avoid loading up on carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes, and rice and decreasing the amount of protein. In the event of decreased activity levels, it is best to alter your diet to match the needs of your body. Paying attention to personal dietary needs makes us feel more energetic and willing to do the things that need to get done. Consider activity levels and how much fuel your body actually needs and then design a menu with this in mind.
Snacking is an often misunderstood part of healthy eating. This is because most times we view snacks as unhealthy “sometimes foods”. In reality, snacks are essential to a healthy diet. When we engage in proper snacking, we reduce our desire to eat enormous unhealthy meals. So, what are good snacks? To start with, healthy snacks are more than just empty calories. Things like chips and candy bars only rejuvenate us for a short period of time. Nuts, fruits, and vegetables tend to be more healthy snacks. The act of forcing yourself to eat celery as a snack when you do not like eating celery is not sustainable. Rather, you should eat something you enjoy as a snack but do so in a healthy manner. If you like chocolate, try eating a chocolate-covered nut or dried fruit. You could still try to dress up the celery with something like peanut butter, or pimiento cheese to make it into something you will enjoy eating more. The idea is to make snack time something that is still enjoyable, but healthy at the same time. Avoid the temptation to have a big snack. Snacks are designed to be enjoyed between meals. If the snack is as big as a meal, it is equivalent to adding another meal to a diet, which is less than healthy.
Preparing meals is a necessary part of eating, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Instead, it can be an activity that brings people together. To accomplish this, get together with the other people in your home to talk about what kinds of meals you would like to enjoy together. You can break up the preparing of the dishes which will be included in the meal, and prepare them together. This group activity extends mealtime to allow you and those close to you to have more time together. You can even get the kids involved by giving them tasks that are appropriate to their age group. Parents have a chance to bond with children by sharing an experience and children have the opportunity to learn important skills. Regardless of whether you’re engaging with children, parents, a spouse, friends, or other family members, remember to be forgiving when things don’t turn out the way you expected. The finished product does not have to be perfect.
If you have a small kitchen, you can always take turns in the production of the meal. If you have something which needs to be cooked in the oven, that task can be done first. While it is cooking in the oven, someone else can be working on another dish. If you are cooking virtually with friends or family, use video calls to allow you to work on cooking together. You could even work on the same dish and when finished, you can compare the results to see how they all turned out. The teamwork which you will find when going through this process allows you to not only enjoy the meal more, but it creates a bond between you and those you love which will endure beyond cooking and into times in which there is no crisis.
When you sit down to eat, there’s no reason for you not to enjoy a little celebration. Every time we sit down to eat, whether alone, or with others, we are engaging in something humans have been doing since the dawn of time. Pleasingly present your food. Eat off of your favorite plates. Decorate the table. Turn off the television. Concentrate on the meal, the flavors, and the company. This can be as nourishing as the meal itself. If you cannot be with the people you want to eat with, coordinate with them to have a video call together in which you eat together in different places.
The time you take in having a healthy relationship with your food in a time of crisis is something that can be expanded on greatly. You can concentrate on the recipes for the food you want to eat, the methods for preparations, and more. There is no reason to stop with the basics of the concepts of healthy eating habits. Begin to learn how to prepare your own foods even if you have never cooked before and you will learn just how enjoyable it can be.
Maintaining balance in a crisis
Most of us already have a busy daily schedule during regular times, but during times of crisis, we could feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to focus on first. In addition to juggling normal activities, we also need to deal with the crisis itself as well as take steps to minimize the effects of the crisis in our lives. Remember it is normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed. In times of crisis, we all have a natural stress reaction of fight or flight. While some elements of flight are beneficial, normally the more healthy reaction to a crisis is to fight. The fight doesn’t mean taking up arms or hitting someone. It means taking action against the negative emotions, feelings, and situations a crisis can create. You should not hide from the reality of the crisis you are facing. Instead of feeling helpless with your current situation, find a balance between dealing with and overcoming what lies ahead.
METHODS TO MAINTAINING BALANCE
Stress is a normal part of life, but it is ramped up exponentially in times of crisis. Developing a schedule will help manage the tasks laid out for each day. Remember that a schedule should be flexible and open to last-minute changes. Make a list and prioritize the most important tasks that need to be done. Keeping in mind deadlines for higher priority items, what you do not finish today can be finished tomorrow. Make sure to balance your schedule with “need to do” and “want to do” items. Employ strategies of yoga and meditation to keep your body and emotions centered. Also, taking up a new hobby that is relaxing will help regulate the stressful responses you are feeling during a crisis.
One method which has proven especially effective is to engage in meditation. Concentrating on you in a thoughtful process is not only a great way to relieve stress, but it is a pathway to open a dialogue with yourself. This is best accomplished in a quiet space with little to no distractions. You may employ outside assistance, like rhythmic music or white noise, to calm your thoughts. Simply allow yourself to engage in shutting down all your thoughts one by one, so you can concentrate fully on the most important questions. If you already practice meditation, consider teaching those you care for some of the more helpful techniques you’ve used in the past.
Another therapeutic method to help focus your mind is to engage in some form of art therapy. This can include writing or painting. The goal is to remove the poisonous thoughts and feelings from your body by getting them out into the world where you can deal with them differently. Try to identify particularly difficult situations in your life and express them through your art. You do not have to be a good artist or writer for this to be effective. The process itself is your way of releasing what is bothering you. By getting your thoughts and feelings out of your head, the emotions behind the crisis have a place to go instead of being bottled up inside. Remember to forgive yourself when you are going through this process, because you may go through bouts of regret where you wish you had not allowed yourself to feel this way, or react in that manner. You are human. It is okay.
EMPLOYING THE HELP OF OTHERS
Having a group of friends to turn to in a crisis is beneficial for maintaining balance and keeping our stress responses of fight or flight in check. When our flight mode is on, we tend to want to shy away from any sort of assistance because we may feel embarrassed or afraid of what others will think of us. It is at this time that you should accept help so that you don’t lose touch with those closest in your life. It’s okay to admit that you need help. Everyone needs help at some point in their lives. Oftentimes it takes more courage to admit that you need help than to try to do everything on your own.
Most of the time people who know you well can see you better than you see yourself since they do not see you with the same emotional hang-ups you are approaching the crisis with. Talk to them about what you are dealing with and what you would like to accomplish. Ask them to be honest with you about what they see. Make sure you are open to what they have to say when you employ their help. They are offering you a fresh perspective on how you handled yourself in a crisis and ways in which you can improve. When employing the help of others, it is going to be up to you in regards to implementing any plans of handling the same type of crisis in the future. It is also a good idea to be open and available to help those who have helped you when they need to process how they react to a crisis.
While this is best when done in person, you are not always able to have people evaluate how you handle a situation when it occurs. Keeping a documented account of what you did and how you reacted to it will come in handy for when you can talk to someone — whether a family member, friend, or mental health professional. A journal is one way of documenting the events of the day, and helpful when wanting to review how you reacted to situations in the past. If you have done your due diligence and evaluated your actions after the fact, you’re going to have an easier time communicating it to another person. Be mindful not to minimize anything from your account, regardless of any negative light it may put you under. If you do so, you’re not going to get the kind of constructive help you’re looking for. Be open to receiving the information you need to move forward by recounting your actions openly and honestly.
In times of crisis, we often turn inward to keep the pain of the crisis event from increasing. It is in these moments when reaching out to others, and confiding in them, may make the biggest difference in your life. Instead of shrinking from the outside world, make it a priority to serve and speak with family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Create a balance between helping others and allowing others to help you; especially in times of crisis.
TAKING INCREMENTAL ACTION
The ability to achieve balance in our lives doesn’t happen all at once, especially in a time of crisis. It happens a little at a time. Taking incremental actions will lead you to a bigger goal. Sometimes when we’re in the middle of a crisis, even small tasks seem overwhelming. Something as simple as doing the dishes or checking the mail can require a massive effort.
In a crisis, setting realistic goals is vital. What absolutely has to be done today and what needs to be done to make it happen? Is doing the dishes the most important thing? Probably not, but it might make you feel better to have a clean kitchen. Is helping your kids work on minor weaknesses essential right now? Probably not. Is washing your car really important to do right now? Again, probably not. Is cleaning out the garage or painting the bathroom a top priority during a crisis? No and no.
It’s important to differentiate between the things that are truly essential and the things that we’re used to doing every day that we think are essential. Maybe those things don’t actually need to be done right now. Focus on the most important things when planning your day and permit yourself to let other things go temporarily. You can pick them up again when life feels more normal. This also isn’t the time to start new projects or take on new responsibilities. Learning to say “no” and knowing when to use it is necessary for maintaining balance.
Take baby steps toward achieving your overall goals that will lead to restoring balance in your life. For example, if you have a goal of going outside and interacting with people more to regain balance in your life but you’re feeling concerned about it, taking incremental steps towards your goal can help it not seem so daunting. Start with checking the mail, then take a walk down the street, wave at a neighbor, and move on from there. Regardless of what you are dealing with, it all comes down to having a plan you can carry out over time. You may not overcome your concerns right away, but that’s okay. These are incremental steps. Victory comes as you make small efforts a little at a time.
After every action, take some time to evaluate how it went and make a plan for what to do in the future. When you think about your mix of emotions during the event, consider what you did, and what you can do better next time. By doing this, you mentally prepare yourself for the existence of a next time. The last thing you want to do is have hope you will not have to go through it again. This is simply not realistic. You’re going to need to accept what it is you need to do and how to make sure you can get through it with your wits intact. It may help for you to write out what you did, good and bad, so you can meditate on what you positively did wrong. Don’t obsess about what you did wrong to where you find it a hopeless cause. This is where forgiveness comes in. No one is perfect. Take action, observe, and adjustPermitting yourself to not be perfect, especially during times of crisis, is important for your own mental health and well-being. Identify what you need to keep your life balanced by identifying the essential and non-essential tasks that need to be done on a daily and weekly basis. Then make a plan of the small steps you will need to take to achieve your goals that will lead to feeling more balance and peace. Take time to re-evaluate your steps and your goals as you move forward.
Changing your stress response by finding balance can be among the most difficult things you encounter. Doing so during a time of duress, like a crisis, makes the process even more difficult. Unfortunately, it becomes even more important during a crisis to alter your stress responses that trigger fight or flight to keep moving forward. Remember, all-action you are taking which makes your situation better is a positive action. It is all based on honesty with yourself. Take your time and be measured in your approach. Utilize meditation whenever possible to calm your mind and open yourself up to pathways that normally might distract you. If you find yourself reacting with a flight response when you’re trying to take courageous action, don’t get bogged down with shame. Negatives are always easier to identify than positives. Opening up your mind and removing the negativity from your actions allows you to see the positivity, so you are more apt to take action. Don’t compare yourself with others or with how you’re able to operate during regular times. Accept any failures, forgive yourself, forgive others, and move on. Remember that action begets action. As you develop your plan to maintain a balanced life, you may find it easier to handle a crisis, should one pop up.
While many countries around the world are opening up right now from the coronavirus pandemic, take a moment to reflect on the lessons learned from being isolated from your everyday activities. Take what you learned from that, as well as ideas from this article, and develop a strategy for managing the crisis you are currently facing. Write down and keep this strategy handy so you can review and adapt when needed.
Remember that everyone feels and manages stress in different ways. Find your balance between caring for yourself and those around you. Begin to manage your own stress before managing someone else’s. Maintain healthy eating habits to assist in managing your stress. A part of managing your stress is being able to unwind. Plan activities to do alone or with others. Don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted friends and family when you need help. And remember that the tips in this article for managing your mental health are not a substitute for advice from a qualified mental health professional.
A crisis is not the end. Life goes on. We will endure, and we will be better for having gone through it with the best possible attitude. Keep learning and growing through the crisis to keep learning and growing as a person and you will have the skills necessary to weather any storm.
Originally published at https://paminy.com on February 2, 2021.